Cover of Puerto Rico en el mundo

Cover of Puerto Rico en el mundo

Political matters appear in our daily lives as some- thing ordinary and concrete through specific situations and the actions of people and institutions. Their importance lies in the fact that these actions and situations deeply impact our lives because they condition the priorities of the country`s resources and the ways to use or invest them. Unfortunately, political terminology is sometimes imprecise, contradictory and prone to confusion. Mass media does not help. Instead, it exacerbates the confusion due to its tendency to highlight contentiousness and triviality.

Bad communication in politics is greatly due to the fact that the term politics itself means different things, some of which are not easily defined. For that reason, there is a field of study and reflection, political theory, whose purpose includes clarifying concepts and identifying the true components of what constitutes the political; thus, a frequent look at the world of political theory helps us adopt useful definitions.

We offer here, as a contribution to effective communication in the public sphere, useful definitions of fundamental political terms.

In the world we live in, the State is the main institution around which political life is organized (the relationships of power in the polls). The State regulates coexis­tence, creates service institutions for citizens, gathers and distrib­utes resources, represents the community before the rest of the world, and manages relationships of war and peace.

The State comprises a terri­tory with a certain population, incorporates sovereignty, and organizes a government for its administration. This means, for example, that we cannot con­sider a ship at sea to be a State because it lacks territory, even if it has a strong organization and internal discipline. Likewise, we could not consider an inhabited territory that lacks organization to be a State.

State and state
The fact that the United States uses the word state to denomi­nate the units that constitute the Union makes it difficult to clearly differentiate it from the word State in its more universal meaning. The United States is technically a federated State made up by fifty states, none of which is a State. For that reason, the term is not used often here in Puerto Rico, except to refer to the federated units of the United States, which in turn defines the peculiar vision of pro-statehood sectors regard­ing the judicial of what structure they want forPuerto Rico: a state without State.

A nation, contrary to a State, is not an institutional reality, but rather a social and cultural one that provides a community with a sense of a common identity and unity. A nation may be made up of a historical, linguistic, ter­ritorial, ethnic, racial, religious, or political expression. These ele­ments can take place in different combinations and, in some cases, can exist independently.

There are situations in which the nation is organized as a State, but there are also nations that do not have a State such as Palestineand Catalonia. There are also States that boast a variety of na­tionalities; for example, Spain and Canada today; and, until recently, theSoviet Union, Yugoslavia, and Czechoslovakia. These are known as Multinational States.

But there are also cases in which a nation is divided into sev­eral States. For example, there are national German communities inPoland, Austria, and Switzerland; while the Kurdish nation inhabits Iran, Turkey, and Iraq. A well known case is Ireland, a nation di­vided between the Irish Republic which achieved its independence at the beginning of the twentieth century, and the northern county ofUlster, which is still part of the United Kingdom (England).

Historically, multinational states and multi-state nations tend to create political tensions, sometimes resulting in violent manifestations. We have seen this in the Soviet Union, Ireland, Canada, Kurdistan, Yugoslavia, and Spain.

In conclusion, a nation can be embodied in a State (Na­tional State); it can subordinate to another Nation State; it can be dispersed in several States; or it can share a State with other nationalities.
Puerto Rico is a nation with limited self government and a State that is a self administered territory belonging to another State (U.S.).

Sovereignty is the ability to conduct internal and external matters of the State without limits. In other words, a State is sovereign when it recognizes no other superior political author­ity. The famous phrase of the French Sun King, Louis XIV, “I am the State” (L`etat c`est moi) does not represent an act of personal vanity or monarchic arrogance, but rather the recognition that there is no authority higher than the sovereign State, which, in the case of the monarchic system, is personified by the King.

Sovereignty implies the ability to decree laws, and claims their compliance in a territory. It also produces agreements and trea­ties with other States. In practical terms, it also includes organizing and maintaining a police and military force with the purpose of providing the necessary force to impose internal order and protect the integrity of the territory from external threats.

It is important to understand that the sovereignty of a State, in the context of political reality, is never absolute. The power of a State, even the most powerful State in the world, is limited by the fact that none is self-suf­ficient. All countries in the world depend, to some extent, on other (international system) and cannot act on its own as if the others did not exist, even in matters that ap­pear to be purely internal.

For example, if a country has industries that produce industrial contamination that is taken by the wind to another country`s border, the problem becomes interna­tional and requires agreements and treaties that will affect how each country involved will man­age its resources.

States differ regarding the way in which they are organized inter­nally. Almost all, besides having a central government (central administration), are divided into units called districts, provinces, states, departments, or counties and these, in turn, into cities or municipalities. Provinces have greater or lesser autonomy over local matters, depending on the organization of the State.

The type of relationship and degree of power central governments have compared to provinces has been an im­portant political problem for a long time. There are countries in which provinces have very little autonomy; their authority is limited to only providing certain local services. These cases in which everything depends on the central government are known as unitary States. In unitary States, the whole exercise of sovereignty is in the central government. When there is a tendency towards the opposite with the purpose of limiting central power, we speak of decentralization of govern­ment functions by means of con­cessions of territorial autonomy that do not necessarily require a transfer of sovereignty.

But there are also cases of countries whose provinces retain ample powers and the central government acts merely as a coordinating entity. In these cases, individual provinces retain most of their sovereignty. This arrangement is called a confed­eration and is basically an organic association of sovereign and au­tonomous entities.

There are some countries, however, in which authority is shared between the central gov­ernment and the provinces, and where sovereignty is shared in a “federate” structure. Under this system, the central, or fed­eral, government legislates as sovereign on some areas of life while each state maintains power over other areas. In the United States, for example, the federal government is the only one that can establish currency and an army, while laws on marriage and divorce belong to each state. In the event of a dispute of what belongs to which, the federal Su­preme Court decides.

The Federation or Union of States occurs when two or more sovereign states agree to give part of their sovereignty to a new en­tity in which both participate. The federation agreement describes in detail the powers that will be given to the new Federated unit and which ones will be retained by the particular territories. The historical examples are vast and denote an enormous variety of agreements; some of which sur­render ample powers and others which surrender less. The United States and Mexico are good ex­amples of federations where the central (federal) government has ample powers. In practice, there are only fossilized remains of sovereignty that, theoretically, each unit had before it became part of the federation.

In contrast, a Confederation is a union of sovereign entities that, contrary to a federation, retain a large part of their sovereignty after uniting. Switzerland, for example, is a confederation with a limited central government of few powers and where the au­tonomous regions retain ample political and administrative space. The official name of Switzerland is the Swiss Confederation.

When the thirteen English col­onies of North America obtained their independence, they first united in a confederation. The official document that created it, The Articles of Confederation, granted the thirteen confeder­ated States (the old colonies) the sovereign power to maintain their own army and currency. A short time later, however it created the federal constitution, grant­ing ample powers to the central government. When in 1860 some of the member states, claiming their natural sovereignty, opted to leave the Union and create a new Confederation, the central government refused to recognize such a right causing the Civil War which forever put an end to the possibility of secession.

But the most recent historical example of a dramatic and suc­cessful case in which powerful national States agreed to limit their individual sovereignties in exchange for a new unit, is the European Union. This began as an economic agreement between Germany, France, Belgium, Lux­emburg, and the Netherlands at the end of the Second Work! War and today it incorporates 27 countries with a single citizenship (European), free flow of citizens, a single currency (Euro), a single capital (Brussels), a Parliament and a project of political integration.

From a theoretical point of view, in all confederations or unions, each unit retains its sov­ereignty even if it gave part of Its natural powers to a central unit. In other words, entering into a con­federation is in itself-as in the case of the European Union-an act of sovereignty. Therefore, each National State continues to exist, even if it has surrendered part of the inherent powers of sovereignty to the central unit. This contrasts with the federation agreement, like the ones in the United States and Mexico, where sovereignty is surrendered to a National Federated State.

Usurpation of Sovereignty
It is necessary to distinguish between cases where sovereignty is limited by mutual agreement and those in which it is lost in­voluntarily. When a country is forced by another to give up all or part of its sovereignty without its consent, by military occupation or political or economic imposition, it is said to be an act of impe­rialism and the victim country becomes a colony. In cases where a country, without formally sur­rendering its sovereignty, places itself under the influence of another for the other`s benefit, it is known as a satellite country or a neo-colony. These situations are usually the result of having reached such levels of economic and political dependence that the dependent country does not feel capable of demanding its natural sovereignty for fear of reprisals or loss of economic advantages.

It is common, in popular usage, to confuse government and State. In Spain, for example, “State” is used popularly to designate the central government, as opposed to the governments of Autono­mous Communities. In Puerto Rico the terms are also confused and we refer to government when we really mean State. Government is not a synonym of State. The government is the entity that administers the State. Governments are formed and operate according to the laws that each State adopts through organic laws and legisla­tion.

In other words, the govern­ment”s main duty is to admin­ister the State and implement its sovereignty. To do so, it is indis­pensable that governments, as well as citizens and institutions, respect the rules of the State, as stipulated. In the modem Con­stitutional state, the government is not above the Law, but just the opposite: it is forced to comply with the Law at all times. The violations of laws by governments mean loosing their legitimacy.

Besides the power to modify the legal code through legisla­tion according to Organic Laws, governments most enforce all laws and regulations. Since the inevitable duty of the State is to protect its territory from foreign threats, the government is the entity that administers external relationships and executes wars, enforces rules, seeks public or­der, is responsible for providing a wide range of services to its citizens and administers justice in both criminal situations and disputes between citizens.

Public Policy
Public policy is the same as State policy. Its character is plural, organic, and dynamic because it is transformed as circumstances change and new situations and opportunities arise. According to the democratic postulates of the modern, secular world, the responsibility of defining public interest in operational terms, of setting objectives that conform to shared values, of discerning fields and strategies of action, belong to all citizens and institu­tions that make up the polls, not just to the government in its role of administrator of the State.

The government`s primary duty, therefore, is to administrate public policy. For the democratic ethos, the government can lead the process of establishing and modifying policies, but it should do so with the community`s vol­untary participation and approval, whether directly (as usually hap­pens in Switzerland) or through representation (as in the United States). In the U.S. only Congress (the political institution that serves as representative of the people) can declare war. The executive branch does not have those pow­ers. Furthermore, under no cir­cumstances can the government alter the fundamental laws of the State (Constitution).

The principle of direct political participation behind the practice of universal suffrage refers pri­marily to the citizen”s unalienable responsibility to the State. The ways of channeling civic partici­pation are different in each State.They rely on the rules citizens agree on, which in time, become traditions.

Political System
A political system is composed of institutions that participate in the process of making col­lective decisions. It includes the government apparatus, political parties, non-governmental orga­nizations, pressure groups, etc. This is the most comprehensive concept of political institutions because it includes all processes that affect the administration of the State. The “system” concept implies that the institutions have their own individual characteris­tics but everything operates as a single unit.

Political Regime
In a political system, the re­gime is the way of organizing and standardizing the operation of a political system. It is the group of institutions that allow the State to exercise its authority over a community. The most influential classification of regimes in antiq­uity is that of Aristotle who tried to answer two questions: Who governs? To whose benefit?

Aristotle himself called atten­tion to the fact that this classifi­cation is incomplete because it does not make reference to the social class structure; it does not take into account that in an oli­garchy the rich are the only ones in power and that democracy includes the poor. It doesn`t take into account that some regimes are governed following laws while others only respond to the ruler`s arbitrary will. These consider­ations by Aristotle suggest that the exercise of power in certain political regimes depends on who controls it, to what social class he belongs to, how he uses it, and if it`s done according to the law or if it functions above the law.

In history, the favorite way of organizing a State is the mon­archy; meaning a centralized, pyramidal system controlled by a king (or queen) that may del­egate duties (powers) on people they trust but that only respond to their authority. In a monarchy, power comes from the king and those who have access to it get it through the king`s delega­tion. The succession of power is through inheritance, by blood. This avoids succession struggles as long as the hereditary line is clear. This type of regime does not offer guarantees regarding the ruler`s intellectual or moral qualifications.

The monarchy has been le­galized in several ways: in some cases the concept of paternal responsibility, in which the king become a symbolic father and is responsible for the common good. In other cases it is alleged that the king (and his descen­dants) govern by divine right, by God`s will. In other contexts the king owes his power to the sup­port of the highest social classes, such as the nobility (primus inter pares) or the religious class.

Classic monarchic systems in which the King recognizes no limit to his power are known as absolute monarchies. Where the king is the law and government depends entirety on his judg­ment. Monarchic absolutism has disappeared in the modem world and old monarchies have become republics or constitutional mon­archies where the king lacks real power, retaining only a symbolic value. This system limits the po­litical power of kings by creating autonomous political institutions and electoral systems of succes­sion based on the principle of universal suffrage.

It literally means “the gov­ernment of the best” A small privileged group, claiming natural superiority, monopolizes political power and the administration of the State. The origin of most ar­istocracies is mostly military but it is perpetuated by economic power and the social prestige it confers. Wherever aristocracy makes up the dominant economic class, it is difficult to distinguish it from plutocracy.

It literally means “government of the few.” We refer to oligar­chies and plutocracies when the power of the State is in the hands of privileged sectors that self-perpetuate through family and incorporated groups. When the “few” govern based on ancestry, the concept of “aristocracy” is used. “Plutocracy”, on the other hand, refers to wealth. While the first privileges the social class cri­teria, the second exalts economic power. Sometimes, “oligarchy” and “plutocracy” are used as syn­onyms to denote government by the rich. Aristotle used the term “aristocracy” to refer to the few that governed for the benefit of all, of the community; and “oli­garchy” to refer to the few that governed for themselves.

Tyrannical or dictatorial re­gimes are those in which there is no limit to the ruler`s power; not even of its own legal code. As in the classic monarchy, govern­ment and State become a single entity of political and symbolic meaning. Contrary to absolute monarchies, however, tyranny does not require a legal base beyond the will of a leader to exercise power by force. The only justification is that circumstances require it to be so. Dictatorships have no legal basis (they usually come to be as usurpation outside the law); its only moral base is self-valuation and its only true limitation is the leader`s will.

The theoretical frame that sustains tyrannical regimes is the notion that only a formal authority can act in benefit of society, espe­cially in times of tension between internal sectors or of moments of foreign threat.

We must distinguish between dictatorial and totalitarian re­gimes. The modern concept of human rights implies that there are areas of citizen behavior that are considered private and over which the State cannot rightfully intervene through legislation or regulation. For example, religious or political party preferences are private matters and the State is not, in a dictatorial regime, au­thorized to interfere with them legally. When it does, it consti­tutes an abuse of power. The totalitarian State, however, does not recognize limits to the State and it seeks to govern citizens lives entirely, including the private sphere. In that sense, it is worse than a dictatorial government.

We must distinguish between ancient and modern democracy. In antiquity, democracy was con­ceived as a system of direct par­ticipation where citizens gathered in assemblies, approved and dis­approved laws, and participated in collective decisions. In the modern world there is a different concept. In today`s democracies, it is not possible to orchestrate direct political participation. In its place, we have representative democracy where representatives of the people govern. In addition, beginning with the American and French revolutions, the modern world has recognized universal rights for citizens that did not exist in antiquity. The recognition of human rights, as coded by the law, imposes limitations to gov­ernment action, protecting the privacy of citizens. Modern de­mocracy has also created mecha­nisms for separating government authority through autonomous executive (administrative), legis­lative, and judicial institutions.

Modern democratic regimes use the electoral system to or­ganize political succession. Structural details vary in each country but in general democracies are divided in two large systems: the parliamentarian which privi­leges parliament over the execu­tive branch; and the presidential which does the opposite. The United States and Puerto Rico are examples of presidential systems, while the United Kingdom and Spain adopted the parliamentar­ian version.

Democratic institutions are geared to avoid concentration of power, which sometimes results in less efficient gov­ernments but this is justified as a price to pay for reducing the authority of the State.

The republic is a mixed regime that has elements of monarchy, aristocracy, and democracy. It incorporates a powerful execu­tive (monarchic element) that is not absolute and whose power is limited by a legislative branch that represents the people (democratic element) with the nobility (more distinguished citi­zens or aristocracy). In antiquity, the Republic was intended to be a regime that could create a func­tional balance between monar­chy, aristocracy, and democracy, combining the best of the three in a single system. In contemporary republics, the aristocratic element has, for the most part, formally disappeared.

Feudalism is not strictly a political regime but rather a con­tractual arrangement that defines economic, social and personal relationships historically associ­ated to pre-modern monarchies.

The feudal political system is based on relationships or per­sonal contracts of vassalage, un­der which a person subordinates to another, to a lord offering services and taxes in exchange for physical protection and well­being. The lords are also linked among themselves, creating a pyramid of people and inde­pendent territories, tied only by vassalage agreements, on top of which there may be a monarch or prince. In theory, there is no transfer of territories or adminis­trative duties and the contracted obligations maintain both parties joined in perpetuity through suc­cessive generations.

Feudalism implies strong bonds of loyalty and contributes to perpetuate strong personal bonds. This is the case of the Puerto Rican arrimados (people who live in some one else`s farm in exchange for labor). In the rural world, feudal agreements were based on the strong moral bond of contractual obligations.

Capitalism is not a political system or regime but rather an economic system historically based on the private possession of the means of production and distribution which is compatible with any political regime. In some contexts, capitalism is used as a synonym of democracy. This is historically incorrect and con­ceptually mistaken. It is true that liberal representative democracy has historically been associated more to capitalism than any other economic system, but it is also true that there have been many authoritarian, dictatorial, and even totalitarian regimes whose economies have been capitalist. Capitalism, because of its needs and internal dynamics, tends to generate inequalities of income (and class), and these inequalities have the effect of creating social tensions that can become ex­plosive. Democracy, on the other hand, is preached on the concept of equality and the inequalities that capitalism produces in prac­tice decrease its effectiveness be­cause it favors citizens with more resources over less fortunate ones. Liberal democracy, associ­ated with the Welfare State, tries to use the State to mediate this conflict by reducing the adverse effects of capitalist economies.

Communism is not a political regime but rather an economic system based on the collective possession of the means of pro­duction and distribution. Theo­retically, it is compatible with democracy due to its emphasis on equality in economic terms and because it values solidar­ity and popular participation, but historically, it has frequently been associated with dictatorial or totalitarian regimes, with the exception of Chile under Salvador Allende, which was a government of short duration.

The concept of a Constitu­tional State is a modem invention that seeks to eliminate the prac­tice of granting real privileges to social sectors and people over the rest of the population. Generally coded in Organic Laws (Consti­tutions), all citizens and institu­tions, in a Constitutional State, including government, are equal before the Law. They all have the same rights, which are con­sidered natural. On this secular principle of equality before the Law, democratic systems erect rules regarding representational systems (parliaments), universal suffrage as a system of political succession, and the administra­tion of justice.

The State of Exception, on the other hand, is an authori­tarian vision of the State that rejects the postulates of equal­ity before the Law defines the Constitutional state. It is based on the notion that the State`s main duty is to solve the con­flicts that arise from the natural enmity of different sectors in the community. The political field, therefore, is nothing more than a struggle for power be­tween friends and foes. To solve differences, the State should intervene by using its power, which includes the use of force when necessary, even if the Law is violated in the pro­cess. In other words, when the State is forced to comply with the Law at all times, as speci­fied by the Constitutional State, it is not able to fulfill its duty. For the authoritarian mentality of the State of Exception, the reason for monopolizing the use of force and violence lies in the fact that the State consti­tutes the only entity capable of imposing solutions to internal conflicts. The same thing ap­plies to foreign conflicts; only the State has the ability to make war when it becomes necessary to defend the interests of the nation. The term Marshal Law defines and legalizes the state`s practice of placing the legal system on hold, when extraor­dinary circumstances force the governments to use violence.

In other words, the theory that privileges the State of Excep­tion rejects the principles of the Constitutional State because it stipulates that the State, by virtue of being the only effective, con­stituted authority, should retain the prerogative of acting beyond the Law when circumstances so dictate.

Today, there are no regimes that define themselves as Con­stitutional States that are not intervened by authoritarian practices coming from very deep cultural traditions. For that rea­son, Octavio Paz, the Mexican poet, has said that democracy can not be legislated. In order to take hold, it has to penetrate the political culture to the degree that it becomes a shared men­tality and a habitual practice.

The strongest critics to the democratic state today come from traditions of the State of Exception.

Another problem that refers to the government`s operation and has created discrepancies for a long time has to do with the relationship between government and economy. The duty of all economies is to produce and dis­tribute goods and services. If an economy produces a great deal it is said to be efficient; if it distrib­utes equally, it is said to be fair.

People who favor capital­ism as an economic system are divided into two groups: classic capitalists and reformed capital­ists. Classic capitalists (that in the United States call themselves “conservatives” or “neo-liberals”) think that the capitalist system, left to its own mechanisms (with­out government`s intervention), produces more and distributes better than any other system. These people say that when the government intervenes in the economy to influence what is produced and at what price goods are sold, the economy becomes more inefficient.

Reformed capitalists (that call themselves “liberals” in the United States), argue that although the capitalist system produces more and distributes more, the inter­vention of the State is required in order to regulate the market, limit abuses, reduce inflations and depressions, and guarantee that citizens have enough resources to maintain the consumption at a level that facilitates a sound economy. Since reformed capi­talism has been the favored interpretation for decades, the government assumes the re­sponsibility of ensuring that the economic system works well and that there isn`t an excess of pov­erty in the population that may interfere with the consumption levels that should exist in order for the system to work.

As a result, ample sectors of the population have gotten used to receiving economic ben­efits from the government. These public policies, on a whole called “welfare”, have developed thor­oughly in the United States and its territories. They therefore play an important role in the life of Puerto Ricans, and in our attitudes to­ward the political relationship with the United States.

What characterizes and de­fines citizens is the ability and obligation to participate in public matters. An important element of that participation, but cer­tainly not the only one, is voting in elections and referenda. In a modern democracy, citizens have individual rights. Some of these rights are human rights, meaning natural and therefore universal. Civil rights, on the other hand, are those coded by law. In some countries, civil rights extend to all residents and not just to citi­zens. In economic terms, in those countries where a Welfare State prevails, rights extend to a mul­tiplicity of benefits and services, especially among disadvantaged sectors. Each State determines the requirements of citizens rights and their limits. According to modern rule, however, human rights cannot be violated by any State, at the risk of being accused of crimes against humanity.

Government structures do not provide guidance to a country`s public policy. It needs vision, goals, strategic plans and proj­ects, articulated coherently as a group of ideas we call ideology.

Ideologies are classified us­ing different criteria. In the economy, classic capitalism as political ideology, meaning, as a social project, proposes that production means remain in private hands. The main role of the State, according to this ide­ology, is to maintain order and stability so that the free flow of economic activity may take place. Socialism and reformed capitalism, on the other hand, do not trust the capacity of mar­ket mechanisms to have a fair distribution of goods and ser­vices. If the capital is allowed to operate unlimitedly, according to its own interests, the result is negative for society. Therefore, the role of the State, in addition to ensuring order and a general climate of trustworthiness, is to regulate economic activity with the purpose of limiting excess and depredation, ensuring a fairer distribution of goods.

More extreme socialists distrust capital even more and propose to expand the role of government in the economy, granting it the responsibility of directing general economic activity and the direct adminis­tration of essential services. If capitalism elevates the value of capital over other goals of hu­man activity, socialists deny the primacy of material things over other cultural values. The com­bination of reformed capitalism and the socialist mentality con­solidated the practice of mixed economies in the twentieth cen­tury. From this historical suc­cess, the Welfare State became a dominant entity of the twentieth century and, in turn, had a deep effect on the political cultures of the modern world.

A new ideological road known as neo-liberalism, created after the collapse of the Soviet Union and the coming of new tech­nologies of transport and communications, has dominated the global scene. The term liberal remits to the origin of the lib­eral economic theory proposed by Adam Smith in The Wealth of Nations at the beginning of the nineteenth century. Smith advocated in anticipation of the first Industrial Revolution that the State should not intervene in economic activity. For these new economic gurus, the historical time of the state of Welfare State is over due to its inability to meet its promises and to creating, instead, heavy government bu­reaucracies that hinder the pro­cess of accumulating wealth and imparting justice. Since capital no longer has a nationality, their proposed alternative is to elimi­nate the intervention of National States in the economy, replacing them with the self-regulation of a globalized economy through new supra-national institutions and juridical norms.

Migration, as a human phe­nomenon, is one of the most common experiences in the his­tory of humanity to which we owe the occupation of all continents on the planet.

There are two commonly rec­ognized factors that intervene in migratory processes: the situa­tions that make us leave a place and the situations that attract us to another location. There are migrations that take place for economic reasons resulting from illness, families, natural cata­clysms, and political conflagra­tions, among others.

The immigration of educated and prosperous people is always well received because it contrib­utes to cultural development, while poor non-educated immi­grants are allowed in only if they perform poorly remunerated jobs that natives are no longer willing to do.

Often times, migration has produced competition for the control of a territory and its eco­nomic resources. At other times it has become the source of friction. Some disputes can become violent and produce very bitter and durable conflicts. Even in coun­tries such as the United States, which is considered to have been formed by immigrants, the last ones to arrive have frequently been the object of prejudices and discrimination.

Democracy arose in Athens in antiquity as an answer to the au­thoritarian governments that did not take the will of citizens into account. Initially, therefore, the emphasis of a democratic gov­ernment was the participation of the free citizens in the collective decisions of the polis.

Being a free citizen is synony­mous to having rights recognized by the State. The attribution of civil rights, especially those relat­ed to freedom of speech, assem­bly, and the rights of the accused, has become the object of public debate because of the rising phe­nomenon of terrorism. Terrorism is a tactic of political struggle that seeks, as its name suggests, to terrify, to create fear. It can be used by isolated individuals or organizations. We also hear of State terrorism when a government, with the purpose of terrifying others, acts with illegal violence against its own population or the population of another State. The abuse of power through torture, executions outside judicial pro­cesses, attacks by paramilitary groups, indiscriminate slaughters of civilians by the armed forces, and the disappearance of dis­sidents, among other suspected enemies, are methods associated to State terrorism.

Sometimes, the terrorist who operates alone or as part of an organization looks to change a particular public policy. At other times, it has a more compre­hensive purpose of changing the regime. With the purpose of causing fear, terrorists, including state terrorists, try to elevate lev­els of insecurity in the population. Resources are used with great efficiency so that the impact of each action exceeds the cost of the resources used. For example, placing an explosive at a crucial point of a structure can achieve more destruction than using a bigger explosive at another point. This need for efficiency makes them use the most advanced technologies at their reach. There has also been the case when ter­rorists rely on simple, everyday instruments that are difficult to detect and avoid.

Since one of the main duties of the State is security, terrorists try to undermine the population`s trust in the current regime. If the population concludes that the State cannot protect it, loyalty to institutions would be undermined and, in extreme cases, the gov­ernment can collapse. Soon after the attack of September 11, 2001, the United States government has defined the prevention of terrorist attacks as its highest priority. This has brought an increase in police and military surveillance at all levels, including areas that were traditionally considered private areas of citizens lives. Monitoring of phone conversations, financial transactions, and domestic and international trips, among oth­ers, have given rise to widespread controversy.

Public debates confront those who believe that the State needs more power in order to guarantee security with those who argue that a loss of freedom represents a deterioration of democratic life.

Raúl Cotto Serrano

Author: Proyectos FPH
Published: January 16, 2008.

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